A Contemporary Theology?

IMG_0106Over at The Gospel Coalition, they did an interview with Gregg Allison over the challenges of writing a contemporary theology, specifically on the doctrine of the church (lower ‘c’ intentional). He points out that among evangelicals there are a wide variety of beliefs on how the church should function and look, which makes a contemporary theology over the issue quite a challenge. But the challenge, in my mind, undermines evangelical ecclesiology and not only makes the task of defining an evangelical church difficult, but proves it is ultimately impossible. The reason is that a contemporary theology of the church is impossible simply because we refuse to look at the ancient theology of the Church.

When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Whittenburg door, a lot of his grievances stemmed from the authority of the Roman Pope. This, of course, was not the first time in history that the authority given to the Roman Pope caused problems in Christendom. Prior to Luther’s call for reform (and subsequent excommunication), the Western Church had endured some of the most corrupt and violent popes in history. Even prior to the corruption, one of the driving factors in the Great Schism was the great authority the West was giving to the Roman Pope; at the time, there was a Pope of Constantinople, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, and Rome. Due to the collapse of the Roman government in the West, the Pope in Rome (or archbishop) gained quite a bit of political authority. While he was always viewed as the “first among equals” by the Church in the East, those in the West began to see him as having more authority than the popes in the East. Thus, while not the sole contributor to the Great Schism, the authority given to the Pope was a driving factor in the split, much like it was in the Reformation.

The problem with the Protestant Reformation, however, isn’t that it rejected the level of authority given to the Pope, but instead that it ultimately elevated every man to the office of the Pope. Prior to the Reformation, the Bible was often interpreted by Bishops, Cardinals, and ultimately the Pope. He held (and still holds) the power to declare an interpretation or teaching ex cathedra (“from the chair”). While this power was no more than implied prior to the First Vatican Council, it still carried quite a bit of weight; the Pope’s view of how a passage should be interpreted often influenced everyone else’s view. The Reformation didn’t remove the Pope from their hermeneutic, they simply made every man a pope. Thus, John may interpret a passage one way while Peter interprets it another and the entire time both are left to argue endlessly without having an actual way to solve their differences.

The Reformations failure to eradicate the office of the Papacy (as it was known) and instead transfer its authority to the common man is what led to thousands of denominations. Seemingly small differences became massive when mixed with the pride of a self-interpretation. It wasn’t a matter of discovering the truth, but instead it became a matter of declaring x to be true, that we are the keepers of it, and all others are wrong. It gave every layman the ability to declare his interpretation ex cathedra, to say that the Holy Spirit had revealed the interpretation to him. Any attempts to refer to Tradition or how Christians had typically interpreted the passage were (and are) put on the back-burner or outright ridiculed as Papist.  Continue reading


What are you for?

It seems common among Christians of the evangelical background – whether conservative, liberal, emergent, or whatever – to imply that their opponent is somehow anti-Jesus and that if Jesus were to come back down to earth today (as He did 2,000 years ago) He’d really stick it to the opponent.

The emergent/liberal/whatever group likes to look at conservative Christians and say, “Jesus would overturn your churches man! He’d go into a flying rage and call you all hypocrites!” They point out that the churches that have coffee shops or bookstores open before and after the services would be in deep trouble; Christ would throw the coffee into the faces of the adherents and call them a broad of vipers. Of course, He’d leave there and go to the church down the street called “Hell’s Sanctuary” that met in a bar on Sunday mornings, gulp down a few beers with the people there, take a few drags off His cigarette, and then discuss how enlightening Zizek’s newest book was.

The conservatives immediately point out that Jesus would have condemned the non-conservatives for acting like Pharisees. The Pharisees set certain rules and parameters on what constituted “holy living” and the emergents/liberals have done the same. The conservative would point out that unless you believed a certain way or acted a certain way or went to a certain type of church, the emergent/liberals would have nothing to do with you. In their minds, Christ would walk in and in perfect Koine Greek that would make any seminary professor blush – or for some sects of evangelical Christianity, He’d speak in perfect King James English – condemn the emergent/liberal Christians for their focus on actions and deed while ignoring the importance of creed. After such a condemnation, He would go down to First <insert town/street> Baptist, deliver a moving solo, preach a 45-50 minute exegetical sermon pointing out the intricacies of what a particular Greek word means, and then give an invitation singing all 52 verses to “Just As I Am.”

A lost and dying world looks at both and simply shrugs them off. They shrug off the emergent/liberal Christians because that version of Jesus is a tamer version of any celebrity. That Jesus might be cool and edgy, but so is Russell Brand or Quentin Tarantino. Jesus becomes an enlightened celebrity and His followers become tag-alongs or an annoying fan club. They look to the Jesus offered by the conservative Christians and they see a cold-hearted Jesus who cares about nothing but Himself. While His ethics might be nice, He’s no different than someone who protests outside of an abortion clinic or speaks up against homosexual marriages. Such a Jesus might have the right morals, but He’s just one man out of many. In both cases, Jesus ceases to be Jesus.

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The Apple has fallen far, far from the tree

For those who are familiar with Francis Schaeffer, you might be surprised to learn that his son Franky Schaeffer is a bit, well, liberal. By “a bit,” I mean that he refers to evangelical Christians as domestic terrorists, appears regularly on the Rachel Maddow show, and contributes to the Huffington Post.

However, recently Schaeffer decided to natural law proponents (a camp I fall into even though I am not Roman Catholic). He decried them, argued against them, and bashed them; the problem is, he never actually explained what natural law was according to advocates of natural law. Thankfully, Robert George (a major advocate for natural law) called him out in the following article: Continue reading

The Liberal Left is the new Religious Right

In the 1980’s, America started to see the rise of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and others in an attempt to establish what was then called, “the Religious Right.” The group decided to take a conservative stance and ally themselves with the Republican Party. As time wore on, many people began to question some of the things the Religious Right was supporting, for instance, unbridled Capitalism, war at any cost, forbidding government money from helping the poor, etc. People questioned it because it seemed the Religious Right had abandoned the Bible in their pursuit of being conservative.

Enter what we can call the “Liberal Left” of evangelical Christianity, who began supporting peaceful solutions to global conflicts and supporting tax-payer money being used to help the poor. Both of those, I believe, have strong Biblical precedence. Unfortunately, the Liberal Left began to move further and further left, allying themselves with the Democratic Party and liberalism in general. They began to become silent on the issue of abortion (or in some cases, supportive of the pro-choice position). They began to embrace homosexuality as a lifestyle and go further than argue for the right to marry among homosexuals (which even someone who believes homosexuality is a sin can still believe homosexuals have the right to get married), but also teach that homosexuality wasn’t a sin.

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